Years ago, forensic-psychiatry student Christine Sharpe walked out of the main building at the University of Texas, exhausted after a full day of classes. Taking a look around, she saw all her fellow students scattered around the campus. Some were talking in groups, some were studying intently by themselves, and some were just taking it all in – like herself.
She smiled. There was comfort in numbers, in being part of one large group where everyone is after a similar goal. Someday, she’d be a fulltime psychiatrist.
So she thought.
As it turned out, fate had something better in mind for the young and aspiring Christine Sharpe; something far out of her field of choice… and much further north than Texas.
But now, let’s go back a little further. Let’s go back to when Christine entered the workforce for the very first time when she was just thirteen. Even this, she said, was a pivotal moment in her career path.
“I started working as a camp counselor at my equestrian barn at thirteen,” she said. “And I never looked back.”
Christine discovered early on that it was working with people, with real individuals, that gave her that personal sense of fulfilment and achievement that we’re all after. “My focus has always been people; how they think and feel, and how to make them see something through the lens of my viewpoint.”
It’s no wonder why she wanted to be a psychiatrist.
Now let’s jump back to her university days. As time went on, Christine began to realize that working as a forensic psychiatrist wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
“I got derailed a bit,” she said. “Part of my co-op program at the university was in a prison. While I was there, I was exposed to the realization that if I continued on the path I was on, then I would have to come to terms with some of my own personal hang-ups.”
As one can imagine, working as a psychiatrist inside a prison would come with its fair share of disturbing scenes and conversations. Christine began to reconsider how she could use her unique talents in a different field.
And, as it turned out, that field was marketing. Based on her previous experience and education, Christine happened to be perfectly cut out for it. “To me, psychiatry and marketing go together because they’re both about how people perceive and think about things for the ultimate purpose of making people happier. I think that words can have such an impact, so I always make sure I believe in what I’m trying to sell or market.”
Fast-forward to 2017, the year Christine was invited to interview at Hardwood Ski & Bike for the position of Marketing Coordinator. In the years between, Christine had held various other sales and marketing positions in Toronto, but the time had come for Christine to settle down and find somewhere to really call home.
“I was exhausted from commuting every day to Toronto, and complications with my most recent pregnancy had left me less physically active than I had been in years,” she said. “I worried that the people who work at a sports facility like Hardwood would take one look at me and assume I wasn’t suited to their culture.
“Still, I tried to stay optimistic as I showed up for my interview.” Always a fighter, Christine wasn’t about to give up then. She remembers the scene of the interview like it was yesterday.
“The feeling in the room of managers was casual, but engaged. I talked about my passions, about why I love marketing and people, and what I hoped to be able to do for Hardwood. The Hardwood team did much the same back, and a few more interviews later, I was welcomed in as one of them.”
Christine got off to a running start with Hardwood, eager to make a splash with both the company and the community right away. During her first week on the job, she attended Hardwood’s Wednesday Night Race series, which, if you didn’t already know, is an 18-week-long series of mountain bike races.
“I spoke to everyone I could,” she said. “I was amazed at the amount of racers and the wide range of their ages; from two-and-a-half to eighty years old!”
Christine soon learned that Hardwood wasn’t just another company that would be a stepping-stone to something better. She knew she was there to stay.
“Over and over I heard a different version of the same story. ‘My dad worked at Hardwood when I was a kid, so I come now to ride with my kids.’ ‘I worked here in high school and now am back full time.’ ‘I’m not technically an employee now, but I worked here in the past and come help out when I can.’”
Much like she had done at the University of Texas when she stopped to absorb the scene unfolding around her, Christine took a step back from the crowd and pondered her new surroundings. Spontaneously, a slogan came to mind: You always come home to Hardwood.
“You always come home to Hardwood.”
Not only was it perfect, the slogan summed up everything Christine was feeling right at that moment: “The rest of me, the wife and mother, equestrian and gardener, felt like I had found a safe, new place to land.” And that was final: Christine knew she was there to stay.
From that day forward, she threw herself into the Hardwood lifestyle. “Now I’m on the other side of a ton of events and the daily interactions of running a business. I get why this place is important to so many people. Part of it is the staff themselves. They take ownership of Hardwood and want it to succeed. We work together, talking through ideas and weighing the pros and cons of decisions as a group.”
And all the employees look out for each other too. Christine said that if she ever sees a fellow employee having a stressful day, she always suggests they go for a walk or bike ride on one of their many gorgeous trails.
“The other great part about Hardwood is that feeling you get when you leave the hustle and bustle behind and step into nature,” she said. “The exhale you feel when nothing breaks the skyline but trees, and the only sounds you hear are from living things. There is something very ‘Canadian’ about cottaging and camping, and Hardwood is reminiscent of those same adventures.
“You can spend time with friends, playing disc golf or taking turns leading each other on the trail. Or lose yourself all alone, making your way through the trees. Everyday you’ll meet someone who has been coming to Hardwood since before the current owners, back when it was Hardwood Hills. You’ll also meet someone who has never been, and get to watch them find their own way around the property.”
Hardwood has become dear to Christine’s heart, and it was this love for the company and community that inspired her to volunteer with the Barrie Chamber of Commerce.
“If you want to be more than a company who tracks money in/money out,” she said, “then you have to take a look around you and see the needs and successes of your community and fellow businesses. The Chamber is the hot-spot for that. It’s an opportunity to work across different sectors and easily find partnerships and networking. It’s another level of advocacy that most companies can benefit from having in their corner.”
So that’s why when the opportunity to volunteer as a Barrie Chamber Board member presented itself, she knew it was the right thing to do.
“To be honest, I was a bit hesitant at first. I was worried about not being a solid enough representative, but my coworker sort of reframed things for me. Rather than worry about the politics or my own value, she had me think about everything we’d helped Hardwood get through over the last year. If there was any way I could help other companies and entrepreneurs with my own experiences, then I knew I could provide value to the Chamber.”
And she will, too. Christine wants to actively help local businesses and the Barrie Chamber move forward past the pandemic.
“I want to share some of the trials and successes of handling COVID and the global pandemic. If others can use what we learned throughout all of this to keep themselves and their company open and profitable, then we have made a positive impact to our community at large”
And what comes after all that? Well, Christine has found her happy place: Hardwood Ski & Bike. And she intends to stay there.
I’m happier and healthier than I’ve been in an embarrassingly long time,” she said with a healthy laugh. “I truly believe that’s what happens when you spend time at Hardwood. I look forward to work and the balance I’m allowed to have in all aspects of my life. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, because here I am: just another soul coming home to Hardwood.”
Written by: Peter Wilson